11/02/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
Before David DeLuise became a prime-time player on the NBC hit sitcom Jesse, he was not exactly living up to his showbiz pedigree. The fledgling actor and son of comedian Dom DeLuise had worked variously as a carpenter, house painter and frozenyogurt-shop clerk, because, he says, his father wanted him to learn the value of hard work. As Dom himself puts it: "There's no way to have ambition if you [give your kid] a yacht."
Dom must be happy that his son's career is no longer rudderless. Last July, after years of auditions and bit parts, David won the role of Darren, Christina Applegate's cerebrally challenged brother on Jesse, one of this season's few new ratings winners. DeLuise, 26, who grew up around Dad's buddies Burt Reynolds, Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, credits his comedic ease to genes. "I know a lot about comedy from my father," he says. "I feel like I was bred for this."
Dad wouldn't argue. "David has paid his dues," says Dom, 65. "He's so happy now that you could throw him down the stairs, and he would just say, 'Whatever.' " Applegate's take on her cheery costar is less bruising. "It's so cool to see a young person who's that well adjusted," she says, "especially from a Hollywood family."
DeLuise's sunniness didn't come without a struggle. Along with his dad's funny bones, he also inherited his father's famous tendency toward large girth. Growing up in affluent Pacific Palisades, Calif., with his dad, mother Carol, now 63, an actress, and actor brothers Peter, 31, and Michael, 29, his weight made him a target. "I always got teased," he says. "But I was also the funny kid. I was scared, and I was eating."
Compounding his insecurity, in the early '80s he was diagnosed with dyslexia. "It was the scariest thing in my life," he says of hearing that he had a learning disability. Determined to cope with the problem, he received tutoring and earned respectable grades.
In 1989, during his senior year at Palisades High School, DeLuise met Brigitte Bedi at a party. "I was blown away by her," he says. The two began dating and moved in together two years later. Daughter Riley was born in August 1993, and a year later, the couple wed.
While Brigitte, now 27, stayed home to raise Riley (daughter Dylan arrived last December), DeLuise continued to audition. But his weight, topping out at 260 pounds in 1992, limited his roles to small parts on TV shows such as Lois & Clark and Blossom. Later that year he went on a diet and exercise program that gradually transformed his body. "People who knew me then will run into me now and say, 'I can't believe you're you,' " he says. The slimmed down DeLuise scored a small part on 3rd Rock from the Sun in 1996, and last July he beat out a crowded field to win the Jesse plum. "David came into his audition with his own ideas, which totally enhanced the material," says Jesse executive producer Ira Ungerleider.
"He was very creative."
Nice praise, but DeLuise still feels his greatest accomplishment remains his family. On a recent afternoon, as he tries to relax in his two-bedroom L.A. home, bedlam breaks loose. Amid the clamor of a ringing phone and Riley whining for some candy, DeLuise puts the hubbub into perspective. "This is my life right here," he says. "This is perfect."
Amy Brooks in Los Angeles